Over the summer, David Zwirner announced the new gallery 52 Walker, led by director Ebony L. Haynes. Opening this October, the space will act differently than other David Zwirner locations, or many other galleries, for that matter—imagined more as a kunsthalle. Participating artists will be given the time to present their work over a longer period, and won’t be tied to exclusive representation.
Kandis Williams will inaugurate this new model with a solo exhibition that is her first in New York. The Los Angeles–based artist will be followed by Nikita Gale, Nora Turato, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and Tau Lewis.
Haynes imagines the gallery, which is being renovated by Selldorf Architects, as a space for artists to connect and experiment, offering a communal library for visitors and collectors alike. She spoke with Whitewall about her plans for this year’s program, as well as creating supporting material with the Clarion series.
WHITEWALL: What was your initial pitch for a new kind of art space to David Zwirner? How did the vision for 52 Walker grow from there?
EBONY L. HAYNES: When David and I first spoke about the idea of a new gallery model, it came from the desire to slow things down and give more space and time to artists. Conceptually similar to a kunsthalle but on a smaller, more intimate scale, the model creates room for artists and visitors. As we collaborated, the idea grew from a temporary space to an additional physical location, which is now 52 Walker.
WW: Why was now the right time for a new kind of model for a gallery, one that slows things down?
ELH: While I had the idea for 52 Walker long before the pandemic began, the past year has certainly pushed for experimentation within the art world. Models and methods that were previously peripheral have now emerged as feasible and necessary.
Like many industries, the art world has also received criticism about speed and turnaround. Though that traditional gallery model and its schedule does have many merits, this new gallery was created primarily to give artists a bit more time and support and still be “for-profit.”
WW: Can you tell us about the gallery’s location, both in Tribeca, and how you’re working with Selldorf Architects to renovate?
ELH: Tribeca has its own distinct energy as compared to Chelsea and the Upper East Side—where the other Zwirner New York galleries are currently located. Selldorf Architects will design the new 52 Walker interior space, continuing the cohesive aesthetics of the Zwirner brand. Previously M1-5 Lounge, the location was purposefully very dark inside. We are working to open up the room to bring in light and make space for the art, while preserving small details from its long history as a landmark building.
WW: Kandis Williams will inaugurate 52 Walker, working in residence in New York until the exhibition opening in October. Why was Williams’s work a good fit to launch the space, and what can we expect from the show?
ELH: The inaugural show will be Kandis’s first solo exhibition in New York. As a longtime admirer of her practice, I have previously included her work in exhibitions I have curated. Kandis’s work is richly layered, insightful, and critical. Her interests in issues of race and semiotics and constructed concepts—such as how language, myth, and historiography shape perception—are areas that I am excited to highlight in a gallery context.
WW: 52 Walker will present four exhibitions a year. What does this kind of calendar open up for you and the artist in terms of the types of shows you can create, programming opportunities, and also audience access?
ELH: A typical gallery show lasts for a little over one month, but at 52 Walker each exhibition will be on view for three months. The shows I plan to present will reflect my curatorial interests and will hopefully encourage repeat visits to re-engage and rediscover the works anew. I want 52 Walker to be a communal and welcoming space for engagement.
WW: Can you tell us about your plans for the Clarion series?
ELH: The Clarion series will be an essential part of the exhibitions. Rather than serve as mere documentation of the installations, the aim is to highlight and expand on the shows’ conceptual theses through newly commissioned critical texts, interviews, archive material, and artistic interventions. Providing visitors with a physical touchpoint to continue their interaction with the show is central to how I envision the model of 52 Walker.
WW: You’ve said that you hope 52 Walker can attract clients who maybe felt they couldn’t be part of the conversation elsewhere. What goes into creating a space that feels inviting and offers a chance for discovery?
ELH: In rethinking the traditional gallery model, I also wanted to rethink the traditional gallery experience. 52 Walker will have a communal library for visitors and collectors to engage with diverse literature and art scholarship, including the Clarion series, which will be available on loan. With the long duration of the shows, visitors can return multiple times like a museum. Collectors will be able to directly engage with artists, with the exhibition presenting like an extended studio visit. We will also have additional programming in the form of panel discussions, live-streams, music recordings, et cetera, and hope to engage with an audience who perhaps have felt disconnected from the white cube model.
WW: 52 Walker will not represent artists. How does that impact the kinds of conversations you can have with the artists whose work you show?
ELH: Regardless of representation, 52 Walker is a space for artists. I want to create opportunities for artists to connect with new audiences, including directors, curators, and collectors, and provide opportunities for community-building and scholarship. Providing support without the expectation of exclusivity gives space for artists to experiment.